A Farewell to Alms

A Farewell to Alms

“A Farewell to Alms” written by Gregory Clark has been much talked about when it first came out and now the New York Times has finally published a review. In his book, Clark outlines how natural selection may have contributed, no actually accounted for, the Industrial Revolution. An interesting proposition indeed.

Benjamin Friedman, whose book The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth has been on my to-read list, writes the review of Clark’s book, calling it “delitefully written.” I don’t know that I agree with that, but I do agree that it is chock full of interesting data from which readers are left to draw some of their own conclussions. What accounted for the sudden appearance of the Industrial Revolution in England? What conditions were required in order for it to happen? How did these come about? These are the questions that Clark attempts to tackle in his ambitious book.

Friedman writes, “If the traits to which Clark assigns primary importance in bringing about the Industrial Revolution are acquired traits, rather than inherited ones, there are many non-Darwinian mechanisms by which a society can impart them, ranging from schools and churches to legal institutions and informal social practices.” It’s a controversial theory in many ways, as Friedman points out. Whether you agree with his final conclusions or not, Clark’s premise will make you think about the ongoing interrelationship of how people shape culture and how culture continuously shapes us.

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